The Dempster Highway is 740 km of hard-packed gravel that starts just outside Dawson City, Yukon, and winds its way through mountain ranges, across the Arctic Circle, and runs approximately parallel to the Mackenzie River Delta up to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The road is well maintained, but is famously dusty when dry and slippery when wet. The highway was officially opened in 1979 and is the main re-supply route for communities in the Western Arctic.
How long does it take to drive?
On average it will take between 12-16 hours each way. Count on at least two days of driving, or more depending on the stops you make along the way. Take your time as you drive through the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountains, and stop to visit the Arctic hamlets of Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic.
What are the road conditions?
The Dempster Highway is an all-season road, but be sure to check in with the visitors centres in Dawson City or Inuvik for the latest road condition updates. The speed limit is 70 kilometres per hour on much of the route. There are two river crossings, with free ferry service in the summer and fall, and winter ice bridges. During spring breakup and fall freeze-up, the rivers are impassible. The GNWT Department of Transportation provides historical opening and closing dates for the ferries and ice bridges so that you can time your trip.
Updated road conditions and warnings are available by checking the Highway Conditions Website or by calling 1-800-661-0750.
Know the RCMP numbers in case of emergency assistance:
Dawson City: 867-993-2677
Fort McPherson: 867-952-1111
What services are available along the highway?
There are only two places to purchase gas along the highway: at km 369 at Eagle Plains, and at km 85.4 at Fort McPherson. It is wise to carry a good supply of water, as the only source of water enroute may be a nearby stream.
There is no cellular service along the highway. However, you can rent a satellite phone in Whitehorse if you want to maintain contact with the outside world.
Is your vehicle road-ready?
Make sure your car or truck is in good working order.
Check the weather conditions and pack appropriately: extra warm clothes, sleeping bags and bug spray.
Pack extra food and water and be sure to gas up at Dawson City, Eagle Plains and Fort McPherson. Fuel stations are few and far between.
Things to carry: extra fuel, a spare tire (or two), jumper cables, first aid kit, tow rope, axe, knife and candles.
Be prepared to spend a night along the highway, in case of an emergency
When you’re out on the road
Wear your seatbelt and keep headlights on. Be aware of changing conditions and drive with caution. Reduce your speed around other vehicles as it will minimize the chance that flying rocks will damage your windshield, and wait for a dust free passing zone to pass slower vehicles. Share your travel plans with others and check in so they know you’ve reached your destination safely.
If you do experience a vehicle breakdown and can’t make contact, flag down another vehicle for assistance, or watch for Highways vehicles, since they do patrol this road. Most truckers will also stop to assist you.
Watch for animals crossing the road. The occasional caribou or bear could be on the road. If the animal is blocking the road, stop and wait for it to move. While waiting, stay in, or very close to your vehicle, particularly if you encounter a bear.
When you come to the end of the road
Inuvik, is the terminus of the spectacular Dempster Highway, but you have the option to continue on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway all the way to the Arctic Ocean. There are a number of hotels and B&Bs in Inuvik, or you can make your way to Jak Park or Happy Valley Territorial Park to plug in your RV or set up a tent. Learn more at the Western Arctic Visitor Centre or Northwest Territories Parks.